Sutra 2.18: prakasha kriya sthiti shilam bhuta indriya atmakam bhoga apavarga artham drishyam
What is the object and how does it come into being? The object of the experiencing is threefold in nature – (1) the light of intelligence, (2) dynamic activity, and (3) material existence. While the external cosmos is the object of the senses, they themselves are regarded as the object of experiencing by the ignorant, both the external cosmos and the internal experiencer being indivisible from the experiencing. Yet, the “object” helps the intelligence to realise its true nature by intelligent experiencing, and thus be freed from ignorance. Translation and interpretation by Swami Venkatesananda
For this week’s sutra, I choose to offer up a translation by Swami Venkatesananda, a “grandfather” teacher in my lineage. While his interpretation is a bit dense, it feels very clear to me. This doesn’t mean I can explain it as lucidly, but here’s my go at breaking it down.
Last week, I introduced Venkatesananda’s language on 2.17, that “thought is the dividing agent” between subject and object. The senses (indriyas) bring in the world around us and get a pretty good seat at the table of the subjects we create with the mind. Which is to say, the mind gives the senses a good deal of power over us.
You all know the saying “your senses betray you,” right? Well, it may as well have come from here. It’s not that the senses don’t pass the world on correctly to your brain, it’s that the mind doesn’t always interpret them correctly. In fact, the yogis would say, any interpretation at all moves past the level of experiencing, where the subject and object are one and the same. What the mind does with that experiencing is an act of creating a separate self. This in itself is not a bad thing. We need to have this separate self, an identity, so that we can live here and now and, as goes the theory of cyclical existence, sort through the karma that brought us here. However, when we do not recognize this separation, we cannot recognize ourselves as of the whole (the universe or universal consciousness).
But let’s get back to this idea of our senses betraying us. I know you all have an example of that floating around in your heads –some time when you remember wrinkling your nose in disgust at the perfume on the woman in front of you in the elevator, while the guy next to you just took in a deeper breath to enjoy it.
Or, like me, you love an organized space, but must have it organized just so or it takes buckets of self-control to avoid moving that book an inch this way, and this candle an inch that way.
This drives my husband bananas, as he just cannot see the difference between the rocking chair facing into room at a 45 angle and the rocking chair facing in at a 55 degree angle, whereas I insist the difference is not only pronounced but of vital importance to the harmony of our living room. I’m not sure whose senses are “correct” in this scenario, but of course the reality is that it doesn’t matter. It only matters to either of us as much as we want it to –and for now I’m holding on to it mattering a fair bit, cuz, ya know, I like it that way… but now that I can see it as my own particularity, I could also learn to let it go. I could desensitize myself to the interpretation of 45 and 55 degrees as pivotal, and just let the rocking chair be at any angle.
This being –be it you, me, or the rocking chair– is prakasha, that “light of intelligence” or “brightness” (Feuerstein) that is the quality of sattva guna: an inherent quality of balance.
Let your senses bring you joy in their experience. Let the experience be what it is. Let your mind do its thing. Let there be a distinction between them.
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts.
Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.